Friday, August 27, 2010

Thai Green Curry

I almost didn't manage to snap a picture of this before it was all eaten! But it just seems like a food blog post is incomplete without a picture.

I used up a zucchini I had from the Farmer's Market to make a batch of Thai Green Curry. I based it off of this recipe from Tigers and Strawberries. Apparently I have trouble making recipes exactly to the letter, so I'm not sure if my version counts as the same recipe or not. Either way, I give Barbara the credit for teaching me how to make Thai curries through her blog.

It's really quite easy to make once you have the green curry paste. You can buy Thai curry pastes in jars, but I made a big batch of my own using Barbara's recipe when I had a lot of basil, cilantro, scallions, jalapenos, and lemongrass in my CSA bag (I mean, really, with these ingredients, it's like Fate is just begging you to make Thai curry). I made only a few adjustments to the original recipe. I left out the green Thai chiles since I didn't have any and used more jalapeno instead (which probably made the curry paste less hot, but that's ok). The only galangal I could find was dried galangal powder from Penzey's, so I used that. I also didn't have any shallots, so I used onion instead.

I also don't have a fancy Sumeet grinder, so I made it in my food processor. Barbara seems to insist that the curry paste must be perfectly smooth, but I admit that I skipped smoothing it out in a mortar and pestle and just ground the dry spices in my spice grinder (really a coffee grinder that's been designated as a spice grinder), ground the wet stuff in my food processor, mixed it all together, and left it like that. It ended up looking a bit like pesto. I figure it still tastes the same, right?

The last time I made Thai green curry paste, I made a triple batch and froze it. That was months ago. I honestly don't remember when I made it. (I also made an extra big batch of Thai Red Curry Paste and did the same thing.) I was afraid that by now it wouldn't be good anymore since its been living in the freezer so long.

Well, it turned out just fine, so if making your own curry paste sounds daunting, set aside an afternoon to make a big batch and freeze it. Then you'll have curry paste for months.

Once you have the curry paste, whether homemade or store bought, making the actual curry is very easy. I scaled down Barbara's recipe a little since it was just me and Daniel, and used one can of Goya brand coconut milk. I skimmed off the cream and put it in the pan, and then added two tablespoons of thawed curry paste. After that was bubbling a bit and making the house smell wonderful, I added the rest of the coconut milk and two lime leaves I plucked off my lime tree (it's not a Kaffir lime, but a Key lime, so I have no idea if that's "allowed", but it hasn't killed me yet), about a tablespoon of honey, and a few good squirts of fish sauce. Then I simmered that for 15 minutes to let it thicken while I cooked up some Jasmine rice (Jasmine rice has a wonderful sweet flavor that I was surprised boring old rice could have at all).

Basically, the Thai curry making procedure is to make a sauce of coconut milk and curry paste, and then throw in whatever other stuff you want in your curry. You then cook that stuff in the sauce until it's done, adjust to taste with sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice. At the end you can garnish with cilantro, basil, and mint, and there you have it. It's really easy and is that fun sort of "add a dash of this, taste, add a sprinkle of that, taste," kind of cooking. If your curry paste is already made, which is the hardest part of the recipe, then the rest makes a fine weekday dinner to just throw together. Not only that, but it will make your house smell WONDERFUL. Daniel caught me inhaling the rich, coconut-lime-spicy-herbal perfume and said, "are you getting high off curry?" Maybe I was.

What "other stuff" do you put in green curry? Well, Barbara put in chicken breast, eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, onion, green beans, and pea pods. Any of those are great, but my curries don't usually have that many ingredients because I don't usually have that many different vegetables on hand. It really depends on what I end up with from the garden, CSA, or Farmer's Market. This time I made it with one zucchini, four mushrooms, half an onion, and a chicken breast (again, this is cooking for just two people, so I scaled it down compared to Barbara's version). I've used eggplant, pea pods, and green beans before, and they were good too. I bet cauliflower or broccoli would be good as well.

You can also change up your protein. In addition to chicken, I've made green curry before with shrimp, tofu, and salmon. This time around I used one chicken breast that I cut off the chicken myself. I think from now on I'm going to be cutting up my own chickens, especially since I buy free-range chickens, and free range boneless skinless chicken breasts cost about $11 a pound. A whole chicken, on the other hand, costs around $3.50 - $4 a pound.

It really makes me re-think the humble chicken breast seeing how little breast meat my whole chickens yield. Chicken breast is considered to be a pretty cheap source of protein at the grocery store, but after cutting up this chicken, those two little boneless, skinless chicken breast halves looked so small and delicate compared to the rest of the chicken, especially the meaty legs. I wonder if industrial chickens are like industrial turkeys - bred to have unnaturally huge breasts to the point the birds can hardly walk. I suppose it would also be reasonable to believe that chicken legs off free range birds, which actually got a chance to run around and use their legs, would be meatier in comparison.

I suppose the solution would be for me to learn how to de-bone chicken thighs! I actually prefer chicken thighs to breast meat for Chinese stir-frys, because I think they take the high heat better. In the meantime, the chicken breast now seems like a luxury cut of meat to me, like the tenderloin of pork or beef, and I think the wonderful, perfumed sauce of Thai green curry is the perfect vehicle for such a delicate meat. All you do is simmer it gently in the curry sauce for a few minutes until it is just cooked, and has absorbed all that wonderful flavor.

Thai Green Curry seems exotic and gourmet while at the same time being surprisingly quick and easy to make if you already have the curry paste. I'm glad I have that good supply of Thai curry paste in the freezer. I still haven't used up all my green curry paste, and I also have that red curry paste. Red Curry is made the same basic way as Green Curry, though of course it tastes different because of the different ingredients in the curry paste, and I suppose there are some vegetables and meats that taste better in one than in the other. Barbara put carrots and sweet potatoes in her red curry, which I did too when I made it, using chicken as the meat again, though I would like to try it with a red meat like beef or pork. I'm not sure why matching colors works so well with cooking, since you'd think that color should have nothing to do with flavor, but it often does. Like have you ever noticed how red wine goes with food and white wine goes with white food? So Thai curries might be the same way.

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